Rosberg beats rain, red flags and Vettel for Hungary pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured his fifth pole position in six races in Hungary today after seeing off the challenge of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the final stage of qualifying.

After seeing teammate Lewis Hamilton pull over in Q1 thanks to an engine fire, Rosberg then had to contend with a brief rain shower and a red flag in Q3 en route to pole position, but he eventually gapped the field by a convincing four-tenths of a second.

Q1 began in slightly cooler conditions to practice, with the track temperature dropping under a cover of cloud. Most of the drivers opted to head out early to post a banker lap time, but Pastor Maldonado’s session lasted all of two minutes. The Lotus came to a halt at the penultimate corner, meaning that he will start tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix from the back of the grid.

He will be joined there by Lewis Hamilton, who suffered yet more disastrous luck in qualifying when his engine caught fire. He was forced to abandon his car in the pit lane, and for the second weekend in a row, he will face an almighty struggle to beat Rosberg in the race tomorrow.

It seemed likely that the remaining four places in the dropzone would be taken by the Marussia and Caterham cars, but Jules Bianchi had other ideas. The Frenchman found half a second in the final sector of his lap to knock out Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had remained in the pits and opted not to run again. The Finn was furious to have dropped out in Q1, and he will start tomorrow’s race from 17th place. Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson could not make it through, though.

Bianchi was quick out of the blocks to set a time in Q2, but it was Valtteri Bottas who set the early pace for Williams. Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top of the timesheets by going six-tenths of a second faster than the Finn, though. Sebastian Vettel slotted into second place, a further three-tenths back from his compatriot after the first run in Q2.

Sergio Perez’s session came to an early end after a hydraulic leak on his Force India car forced him to get out of the car with just one lap time on the board. He eventually was classified in 13th place, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg sneaking into the top ten.

On the final set of runs, none of the drivers in the dropzone managed to improve, with Daniil Kvyat spinning on his final lap to qualify 11th. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez put in a good display for Sauber to qualify 12th and 14th respectively ahead of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi.

As Q3 got underway, light rain began to fall over the Hungaroring, making it a race against time to get in a lap time and beat the weather. Rosberg was the first to head out, and was having to wrestle with his Mercedes in the slippery conditions. Just as he ran wide at the first corner, Kevin Magnussen shunted his McLaren in the wall, bringing out the red flag with ten minutes left on the clock. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed, but was disappointed to see his session end in such fashion.

The session resumed some ten minutes later with dry tires fitted to the cars despite the brief shower. Rosberg was the first to head out once again, but his first time was well off the pace. The drivers were able to push for more than one lap as the track continued to improve, seeing them trade fastest times for P1. Rosberg took to top spot with three minutes to go ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but there was still time for his effort to be bettered.

Bottas moved up to second place with his final effort, leaving the battle between Rosberg and Vettel. Although the Red Bull driver managed to move up to P1 for a few seconds, it did not last any longer as Rosberg improved through all three sectors to secure his sixth pole position of the season.

Daniel Ricciardo will start the race behind Bottas in fourth place, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa behind him on the third row of the grid. Jenson Button will start seventh for McLaren with Jean-Eric Vergne in eighth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.

It wasn’t easy for Rosberg, but once again he was the man to beat in qualifying, capitalizing on the misfortune of his rivals to secure pole position at the Hungaroring. However, he will now need to convert it into a race win on Sunday if he is to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship over Hamilton, who may have to start from the pit lane.

Join us for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra tomorrow from 7:30am ET.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.